TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas. Directed by Pedro Almodovar. 1990. Rated NC-17. (RCA/Columbia tape, 105 min., in Spanish with English subtitles, Hi-Fi stereo, $89.95)
As one of the movies that led to the recent refining of the industry's rating system (with an NC-17 to distinguish art house erotica from grindhouse porn), Almodovar's latest movie originally got its X not for nudity or language but for a naughty dildo -- a mechanized, flipper-wearing frogman the heroine uses to bring herself to orgasm. This colorful little aide-de-camp is very much in keeping with the picture's mix of tones, the toy shop brightness and melodramatic lubricity of the latest opus by the notorious Spanish director ("Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown") who is being hailed as a successor to Luis Bunuel.
Unlike Bunuel, who explored the perverse underpinnings of desire in a repressed bourgeoisie, Almodovar, working in a post-Franco Spain, wallows giddily in the unleashed perversities of mankind, a world of love junkies and drug addicts whose outsize emotions have been shaped by movies and soap operas.
The plot, in which a deinstitutionalized psychopath kidnaps and ties up a young woman -- a horror- and porn-movie star with whom he is obsessed -- sounds more lurid than it plays. After all, the hero is a boyish fellow who only wants to show the woman of his dreams what a caring lover he is. And she is no virtuous damsel in distress, but a woman strung out on drugs, disillusioned with men, ready to find Mr. Right beneath Mr. All Wrong.
The actors are attractive, but lack the skill, or self-irony, to transcend the sordidness of the premise. So it becomes difficult to completely accept Almodovar's romanticizing of insanity and aggression against women. He doesn't make a political metaphor out of the idea of women "wanting" to be raped or overpowered the way Lina Wertmuller did in "Swept Away," nor does he give his protagonist a class alibi. He identifies with both characters, and there is a kind of universal loneliness beneath the surface exuberance and striking imagery.
Almodovar's movie-saturated sensibility and his inventive use of the wide screen lose something in translation to video cassette. Still, this is a lively and intriguing work by Spain's hottest director, and well worth an evening's entertainment. The English titles are crisp and clear, though not in the yellow that works best on TV screens.